Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
May 14, 2015 3:35 p.m.
After close to a year of sometimes acrimonious discussion about elements of the port master plan, it appears that even port commissioners are confused over whether they have adopted the plan or not.
About 30 people, mostly Amelia Island residents, attended the May 13, 2015 Regular meeting of the Ocean Highway and Port Authority (OHPA) at the Page Governmental Complex in Yulee, FL, to hear discussion on the report prepared by island resident Phil Scanlan to address citizen concerns over the OHPA master plan that was released about a year ago. After two hours of discussion, there was no clear consensus among OHPA commissioners to take quick action on Scanlan’s recommendations, which were developed with input from 20 citizens at the suggestion of State Representative Janet Adkins and with the support of OHPA Commissioner Danny Fullwood. While the discussion began on a hopeful note, it ended in frustration for many audience members who had expected a more favorable reception to both the report and their offers to help draft plan revisions.
OHPA Commissioner Danny Fullwood seemed receptive to beginning the work of preparing a resolution that would remove certain hot button potential activities from the master plan, such as an oil refinery, a phosphate plant and a coal handling facility. Commissioner Adam Salzburg appeared in agreement. But Commissioner Carroll Franklin was adamantly opposed to removing anything from the plan, claiming that people had not taken advantage of earlier opportunities to comment on the document and that he feared that appeasing island residents could hurt economic development and the well-being of county residents who live off the island. OHPA Chair Richard Bruce recapped his on-going frustration with the community’s misinterpretation of the master plan document itself, reminding the audience that it is a collection of ideas, not a blueprint for action.
The fifth OHPA Commissioner, Ronnie Braddock, has not been present at any of the discussions since June of last year due to a health situation. OHPA Attorney Clyde Davis was also absent. Josh Martin filled in as legal counsel for the meeting.
Next up is a meeting called by State Representative Janet Adkins for May 20, 2015 from 4-6:00 p.m. in the Peck High School Auditorium, 516 S. 10th Street, Fernandina Beach. People who wish to speak at the meeting or offer handouts are asked to contact Adkins’ office by May 18th at (904) 491-3664 or [email protected].
The Scanlan Report
At a meeting held in State Representative Janet Adkins office on April 16, 2015, about 20 people, including OHPA Commissioners, expressed concerns to Adkins over the ongoing problems between Fernandina Beach and the OHPA over the contents of the OHPA master plan and its potential for adverse impacts on health, safety and quality of life for island residents. After listening to 12 speakers, Adkins said that what she was hearing was a lot of fear and anger at the process used to develop the current plan. She said she understood that while the objectionable activities were likely not to happen, the fact that they are in writing in a formally adopted plan is nor reassuring. She said, “We can look at legislation to solve the problem, but it is paramount to include the people.”
At the end of the meeting, Phil Scanlan volunteered to compile a list of citizen concerns with the master plan that would indicate what the community would like to strike from the plan for Representative Adkins. He agreed to involve all meeting participants in reviewing the list and expressed an intent to have it delivered to the OHPA in early May for discussion at the May 13 OHPA meeting.
During the May 13 discussion, Scanlan delivered a summary of the report. He said that the first goal is to include the local citizenry in crafting the plan. Without agreement on this point, he said, it would be difficult to agree on any plan that follows. He summarized citizen objections to the current plan in three general categories: potential for increased use and storage of hazardous materials at the Port of Fernandina, which is located in a residential area of the city; a 450% increase in truck traffic to the city; and the call for a large cruise ship terminal. He also said that the economic analysis provided by the consultant in the current plan is weak.
Scanlan told commissioners in reference to the Port of Fernandina, “We’d love for you to keep doing what you’re doing now.” He also said that the community would welcome the OHPA’s help in dealing with quality of life issues, citing the excellent partnership with the mills, which has resulted in improved water and air quality, among other things. He also asked the OHPA to study the increased use of barges and trains to reduce road traffic. He said that he would like to be able to show Representative Adkins that the two sides have made some progress since her April 16 meeting.
Medardo Monzon addressed the OHPA, thanking Commissioner Danny Fullwood for his willingness to consider revising the master plan to meet the community’s concerns. He asked the OHPA to pass a resolution “saying no” to an oil refinery at the port. He also asked for a resolution to establish a formal, multi-step process to build on the Scanlan report that would bring both sides together to agree on changes to the master plan. Monzon added that there is a wealth of experience in the local volunteer community from which the OHPA could draw to craft a true vision for the port and the community.
Mary Ann Sharer reinforced points made by both Scanlan and Monzon. She said that it was good to hear that the OHPA was interested in what the people had to say, and that working together on the Scanlan report was a good experience. She thanked the OHPA and expressed her desire to contribute to a good resolution of the issues.
Faith Ross reinforced the ability and desire of qualified volunteers to help the OHPA redraft the plan. She provided a written statement that offered the services of Anne Thomas, a retired lawyer, to assist in redrafting the plan. She said, “The proffered ‘drafts’ are to be considered only revisions, open for comment from all parties, with the hope that a workable document may emerge from this process.” The revised sections 4 and 6 may be found at https://www.dropbox.com/login?cont=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.dropbox.com%2Fhome%2FOHPA%2520Master%2520Plan%2520Drafts.
Brian Seuter, a local harbor pilot, also thanked the OHPA for listening to the community’s concerns. He said that more progress can be made and lots of enmity can be dissipated. He credited Commissioner Fullwood for his positive role. He said that there is plenty of “low hanging fruit” than can be removed from the plan. He urged commissioners not to be afraid of changing the plan because of all the money that was spent to develop it. He said that the amendments proposed would help economic development. However, he disagreed with the suggestion to abandon the idea for a large cruise ship terminal at the former pogey plant site. He also stated that the harsh criticism directed toward Kinder Morgan, the port operator, by some of the master plan critics was “off base.” He said that Kinder Morgan is a good steward of the port, reminding audience members that they employ good people in good jobs and that they are also part of the community. He urged the OHPA to keep the port in its current footprint and maximize its potential, while eliminating thoughts of an oil refinery and other “low handing fruit” in the current plan. Seuter commended both Phil Scanlan and Commissioner Danny Fullwood for their work.
Commissioner Fullwood said that he would like to head in the direction suggested by Scanlan’s report and speakers. He expressed his support for the concept of an advisory committee with a good mix of members to help the OHPA keep in touch with the community. “This is my community, too,” Fullwood said.
He suggested that the OHPA begin work on a resolution or a memorandum of understanding that would remove the notion of an oil refinery altogether from the master plan, along with a coal facility and a phosphate facility. With respect to a cruise ship terminal, Fullwood said that because of space constraints, it would need to be located outside the city limits. He suggested that if it were to be considered at a site like the pogey plant, it would need to be developed privately. For that reason, he expressed his desire to remove it from the plan.
Commissioner Carroll Franklin disagreed. As far as he was concerned, the people objecting to the master plan had had ample opportunity to voice concerns while the plan was being developed, but had not done so. “Where were they?” he asked. He considered the OHPA to be the advisory committee. He cited a report going back to 1990 that talked about building a road across the marshes from Highway 17 to the Port as a means to alleviate traffic concerns, suggesting that that idea should be brought back for discussion. He expressed his support for keeping a cruise ship terminal in the plan.
With respect to State Representative Janet Adkins, he said, “She is a good lady, but meeting with her is going no place but to get her votes.” He expressed his belief that the five port commissioners are responsible for the port, adding that he was against taking anything out of the master plan. “If we take these things out,” he said, “they’ll want 14 more things.” He expressed his concerns that acceding to the wishes of the island residents could harm the rest of the county.
Fullwood responded. “Our community is telling us they don’t want these things, and we represent the community. I don’t think I’ve said anything that would hurt the rest of the county.” Commissioner Salzburg said that he thought the idea of an advisory group was a phenomenal idea, and appeared to support Fullwood.
Chair Bruce suggested that perhaps there was a compromise, if the activities that the island residents objected to could be moved to the mainland. He said to the commissioners, “We have a lot of work left to do.”
Bruce launched into a series of remarks reflecting his frustration over the label “master plan” for a document that was not intended to be an operational plan. He drew a parallel with the work underway in the city of Fernandina Beach in which a consultant has drafted a master plan for parks and recreation activities. He said that the misunderstanding of the port document had given rise to “a forest fire of rumors.” He said that while he had wanted to respond to the criticisms, he had been advised against it. He said that those unhappy with the master plan document had talked to each other, but not to port commissioners. The port commissioners had adopted an attitude of “turn the other cheek” in dealing with the criticisms. Bruce said that Adkins was correct when she said that community unrest was rooted in fear.
Has the master plan been adopted or not?
City resident Michael Harrison asked to be recognized for clarification of an issue Bruce raised. He said that in developing the parks and recreation master plan, the consultant had provided the city commission with his recommendations, but that it was up to the city commission to finalize the plan, which has not yet been done. He said that the Scanlan report called for a more limited focus on what the port might do in the future. Bruce said that the OHPA had accepted master plan prepared by their consultant, but did not adopt it.
Harrison asked, “Did you adopt the master plan?” Bruce and Fullwood responded simultaneously, with Bruce saying no and Fullwood saying yes.
Phil Scanlan jumped into the discussion asking Bruce, “Then why did you present it to the city’s Planning Advisory Board and the Fernandina Beach City Commission if you did not adopt it?” Bruce replied that the OHPA had accepted the consultant’s work, “but we don’t have to follow it.”
Scanlan asked, “Is this your plan?’ Before anyone responded, Val Schwec, Kinder Morgan’s director of port operations, sought recognition. He said that the master plan could be amended annually. In comparing the process used to develop the port master plan to that used to develop the city’s parks master plan, Schwec noted that an important step had been omitted in the OHPA’s process, because the OHPA had not narrowed the consultant’s recommendations to their own needs.
Fullwood agreed that the port plan could be refined, while Franklin agreed that an oil refinery could be located elsewhere in the county. Attorney Josh Martin opined in response to a question that while the OHPA can adopt its plan, state law says that such a plan must be consistent with the comprehensive plan of the locality in which the port is located.
At 8:20 p.m. Chair Bruce ended the discussion to move on to other business on the meeting agenda. He said that the job of adopting a short-term tactical plan for the port remains to be done.
Adkins weighs in
After being briefed on the progress during the meeting by her district staffer Joe Zimmerman, Representative Adkins issued the following statement:
Representative Adkins is a resident of Fernandina Beach. Certainly the Florida Legislature has a vested interest in the success of Florida’s ports. The Legislature oversees policy on the state level, as it pertains to all of Florida’s ports, including the Port of Fernandina.
Editor’s Note: Suanne Z. Thamm is a native of Chautauqua County, NY, who moved to Fernandina Beach from Alexandria,VA, in 1994. As a long time city resident and city watcher, she provides interesting insight into the many issues that impact our city. We are grateful for Suanne’s many contributions to the Fernandina Observer.